Auditor’s race offers new ideas and energy

Paul Gawrych (left) and Peter Tecklenburg are candidates for Charleston County Auditor.

The Charleston County auditor’s race seldom ranks among the county’s hottest political contests. After all, it can be difficult to energize voters about a job that involves calculating property tax rates and mailing out bills.

But that’s not the case this year.

First, it’s a wide-open contest, now that incumbent Republican Auditor Peggy Moseley is out of the mix. She lost a June primary battle following criticism for her role in tardy tax bills and other issues.

Also, the auditor’s race is one of only a few contested local elections in what otherwise is a sleepy election season.

Both the Democrat and the Republican running for the post say the job essentially is administrative. They also understand their chance of winning Nov. 6 will be shaped in part by whether there is a coattail effect with the presidential race.

That’s one reason both Paul Gawrych, a Republican, and former Mount Pleasant town councilman, and Peter Tecklenburg, a Democrat and former transit planner, are trying to reach beyond their party’s core supporters.

The auditor is a full-time job that pays about $90,000 a year. Duties include supervising a staff of about 30 employees.

Gawrych defeated Moseley in a June primary and hung on to the win after Moseley filed a lawsuit questioning whether Gawrych should be ruled ineligible because he did not file a paper copy of his Statement of Economic Interest — an issue that knocked more than 200 other candidates statewide off this year’s ballot.

Gawrych said he was pleased when the S.C. Supreme Court ruled last month that he could remain on the ballot and focus his full attention on the campaign.

If elected, Gawrych said he would meet with the staff first thing and have a good talk. “We’re going to find out who’s on board and who is not on board to change the way things have been happening with the Auditor’s Office,” he said, adding he has found it difficult to find someone to talk with there in the past.

He said he also would emphasize cross-training employees so there’s no job that only one employee can perform.

Tecklenburg said he would refocus the office on hard work and customer service, on spotting places where tax bills have fallen through the cracks and instructing his staff on the complex issue of heirs property, where a piece of land is owned by multiple family members.

“The Auditor’s Office is a partisan office, but it shouldn’t be,” he said. “I wish the job was nonpartisan.”

He said his campaign underscores his commitment to a higher ethical standard by not accepting money from political action committees or county contractors, and by posting contributions on his campaign website weekly — more frequently than the law requires.

The two candidates have different professional backgrounds.

Tecklenburg, 32, resigned his job as a transit planner to run for auditor, in part to avoid any Hatch Act questions over whether he was a federal employee running for partisan office (his salary was not paid with federal dollars), and to concentrate on the race full time.

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Gawrych, 49, runs a contracting company that does road work and said he would talk with his business partners about his future there if he wins.

“If I win, I’ll be fully committed to the oath that I’ve taken and the responsibilities that come with it,” Gawrych added. “Nothing else will interfere with that.”

The candidates also have disagreed on Gawrych’s numerous campaign signs that say “Higher Standards, Lower Taxes.”

Tecklenburg said the auditor cannot raise or lower taxes — that’s up to County Council, the school board and cities and towns.

“The real emphasis of the office should be on service,” Tecklenburg said. “It’s a procedural job. It’s not setting policy. It’s not setting tax rates.”

Gawrych said running the office efficiently can have a positive impact, “creating an opportunity for taxes to be adjusted by those that can indeed adjust them.

“Saying it is not your job or your responsibility is what is wrong with government today.”

The winner takes office when the county’s new fiscal year begins July 1, 2013.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.